Up to the present we have been speaking only of those primary motions of the heavens, by which the whole sphere appeared to revolve once every twenty-four hours. We have now to discuss the remarkable theories by which Ptolemy endeavoured to account for the monthly movement of the moon, for the annual movement of the sun, and for the periodic movements of the planets which had gained for them the titles of the wandering stars.
Possessed with the idea that these movements must be circular, or must be capable, directly or indirectly, of being explained by circular movements, it seemed obvious to Ptolemy, as indeed it had done to previous astronomers, that the track of the moon through the stars was a circle of which the earth is the centre. A similar movement with a yearly period must also be attributed to the sun, for the changes in the positions of the constellations in accordance with the progress of the seasons, placed it beyond doubt that the sun made a circuit of the celestial sphere, even though the bright light of the sun prevented the stars in its vicinity, from being seen in daylight. Thus the movements both of the sun and the moon, as well as the diurnal rotation of the celestial sphere, seemed to justify the notion that all celestial movements must be "perfect," that is to say, described uniformly in those circles which were the only perfect curves.
The simplest observations, however, show that the movements of the planets cannot be explained in this simple fashion. Here the geometrical genius of Ptolemy shone forth, and he devised a scheme by which the apparent wanderings of the planets could be accounted for without the introduction of aught save "perfect" movements.
To understand his reasoning, let us first set forth clearly those facts of observation which require to be explained. I shall take, in particular, two planets, Venus and Mars, as these illustrate, in the most striking manner, the peculiarities of the inner and the outer planets respectively. The simplest observations would show that Venus did not move round the heavens in the same fashion as the sun or the moon. Look at the evening star when brightest, as it appears in the west after sunset. Instead of moving towards the east among the stars, like the sun or the moon, we find, week after week, that Venus is drawing in towards the sun, until it is lost in the sunbeams. Then the planet emerges on the other side, not to be seen as an evening star, but as a morning star. In fact, it was plain that in some ways Venus accompanied the sun in its annual movement. Now it is found advancing in front of the sun to a certain limited distance, and now it is lagging to an equal extent behind the sun.
[FIG. 1. PTOLEMY'S PLANETARY SCHEME.]
These movements were wholly incompatible with the supposition that the journeys of Venus were described by a single motion of the kind regarded as perfect. It was obvious that the movement was connected in some strange manner with the revolution of the sun, and here was the ingenious method by which Ptolemy sought to render account of it. Imagine a fixed arm to extend from the earth to the sun, as shown in the accompanying figure (Fig. 1), then this arm will move round uniformly, in consequence of the sun's movement. At a point P on this arm let a small circle be described. Venus is supposed to revolve uniformly in this small circle, while the circle itself is carried round continuously by the movement of the sun. In this way it was possible to account for the chief peculiarities in the movement of Venus. It will be seen that, in consequence of the revolution around P, the spectator on the earth will sometimes see Venus on one side of the sun, and sometimes on the other side, so that the planet always remains in the sun's vicinity. By properly proportioning the movements, this little contrivance simulated the transitions from the morning star to the evening star. Thus the changes of Venus could be accounted for by a Combination of the "perfect" movement of P in the circle which it described uniformly round the earth, combined with the "perfect" motion of Venus in the circle which it described uniformly around the moving centre.
In a precisely similar manner Ptolemy rendered an explanation of the fitful apparitions of Mercury. Now just on one side of the sun, and now just on the other, this rarely-seen planet moved like Venus on a circle whereof the centre was also carried by the line joining the sun and the earth. The circle, however, in which Mercury actually revolved had to be smaller than that of Venus, in order to account for the fact that Mercury lies always much closer to the sun than the better-known planet.
[FIG. 2. PTOLEMY'S THEORY OF THE MOVEMENT OF MARS.]